Last-Minute Thanksgiving Ingredient Substitutions That Will Save Your Sanity
Because when your store is out, they’re out.
Thanksgiving is likely to be very different for all of us this year, but it’s still Thanksgiving. Which means whether you are planning a socially distanced gathering for 8, an intimate dinner for two, or even just cooking for yourself, you will likely still run into that ingredient crunch.
So, take a little stress out of a pretty stressful year, and be ready with this no-fail list of ingredient swaps for classic Thanksgiving recipes.
First, know that frozen is just fine
You may have dreamed of buying those cranberries, green beans, and pumpkin fresh, but if the store is out, head straight for frozen (or even canned!). Many recipes will actually give instructions on how to swap in a frozen or canned version of an ingredient, but if not, a quick search online will give you the adjustment you need to make, from using thawed or frozen, drained or not, and how your cooking time might change. Just know it’s there for the swapping!
They’re out of pumpkin or sweet potatoes
For any starchy orange vegetable (pumpkin or sweet potatoes, for example) look for another starchy orange vegetable! The following are nearly completely interchangeable in recipes, and often you can get a wonderful familiar flavor with a slight fun twist. I’ve been making my famous and beloved family recipe for pumpkin soup with 100% butternut squash for years, and no one has either noticed or complained! Any of these orange veggie heroes can swap right in for any other:
- Sweet Potato
- Butternut Squash
- Kuri Squash
- Honey Nut Squash
- Hubbard Squash
- Kabocha Squash
- Sweet Dumpling Squash
They’re out of ALL the cranberries
If you cannot source fresh or frozen, and cannot abide canned, look for frozen tart cherries, sometimes labeled Montmorency, which are the tart cherries often used in pies. Make sure it is just the fruit and not pie filling. They are tart, but not as astringent as cranberries so you might need less sugar in your recipe. You can also use reconstituted dried sour cherries; again, be sure they are sour and not candied.
They’re out of green beans
If you’re trying to make your classic green bean casserole, and neither fresh nor frozen are making themselves known to you, you have several options. Try the recipe with either snap or snow peas: The former will be a little bit sweeter, so think about your particular recipe and how that flavor might blend. If you have a local Asian market, look for long beans, which are essentially really long green beans. Just cut them down to the size you want. For a similar flavor profile, you can also pivot to a frozen baby lima bean, frozen edamame, or even frozen green chickpea if any of these are available in your market. You can also think about using fresh bagged broccoli “slaw,” which is shredded broccoli stems.
They’re out of onions
Whether your table isn’t complete without creamed pearl onions, or you do a sweet and sour braised cippolini, these can sometimes be hard to find under the best of circumstances. And with everyone loading in onions for the winter, even your basic yellow for your stuffing might be harder to find than usual. But now is not the year to have to go from store to store in search. Luckily, the onion family is wide and delicious, so feel free to use them interchangeably. Thick sliced rings of leek are a good swap out for pearl onions, and whole or halved shallots can understudy cippolini any day. Red, white, and all forms of yellow onions are all interchangeable in recipes, so don’t get too hung up on the color. But leeks, while milder, and shallots, while slightly sweeter, are always my go-to for adding onion flavor when onions are scarce.
They’re out of pecans
The American Pecan Council might be asking you to engage in the age-old pronunciation debate of puh-con versus pea-can, but when it is time for baking or cooking, how you say it is not nearly as important as what you do when you cannot find them. If the baking aisle is bereft of this nut, first try the produce section. Whole pecans in the shell might take more work, but it isn’t hard and can be done while watching your evening shows. Freshly shelled pecans are actually a treat to cook and bake with. No shelled versions to be found? Try your recipe with a combination of half walnuts, for meaty crunch, and half slivered almonds for buttery sweetness, and you’ll have a nice balance. Or try the recipe with a fun new nut all its own, like peanut or hazelnut for a whole new taste sensation.